By Dwight L. MacPherson
Publisher: Viper Comics
Format: softcover, 6x9, full color, $9.95
Reviewed by: Kat Kan
When people think of Harry Houdini, they think of the famous escape artist who could get himself out of handcuffs, chains, and straightjackets while hanging upside down, or being plunged into an icy river. But what was he like as a kid? MacPherson has imagined a ten-year-old Harry who has run away from home, wearing his father's special silver dollar around his neck. Harry hops a freight car in 1886, but he finds a large cage with several "freak" children locked up inside, and soon enough he joins them as a prisoner of Professor Murat's traveling circus. He doesn't always get along with the others: Lydia the snake girl (and her snake, Terra), Hans the legless boy, and Jacques and Joe the Siamese twins, but they are united in their dislike and fear of Professor Murat. In their travels, they decide to form a detective agency that will help to solve mysteries for a fee of a silver dollar. Word of their work travels ahead of them, and when they arrive in Kansas City, a young girl named Bea approaches them with a case. Her father received a mysterious parcel which included a treasure map to a lost gold mine, and soon after receiving it, the downstairs part of their house was ransacked and he was missing. Bea is certain he was kidnapped. When Harry and the others manage to get away from the circus and find Bea's house, they discover that Bea's mother has now been kidnapped, and Bea witnessed it from the attic. It turns out that Harry's silver dollar allows him to cast spells, such as making a carpet fly, which comes in handy when they all have to escape Bea's house when the kidnappers return. What they discover about the map to the gold mine, the mysterious pocket watch they found beneath the floor boards at Bea's house, and the identity of the kidnappers doesn't help them when they're all caught, and Harry and his misfit friends must go into the haunted mine to find the gold.
The story reads like a fun cartoon mystery, with just enough shivers for younger readers, and lots of humor and action. Harry can work magic, but he's still a kid and sometimes makes mistakes, such as trying to look like an adult but making himself look like the dead Wild Bill Hickok so the men in town try to chase and shoot him. Speaking of the action, there's plenty of it, but little in the way of violence. Gowell's art is cartoony and attractive, his Harry looks enough like the adult Houdini to be recognizable while still being a kid; Conley's colors are somewhat dark, fitting for the nighttime action and spooky mine interiors, while remaining light enough so younger readers will still enjoy reading it. A kid Houdini, a mystery, a haunted gold mine, other supernatural doings, humor, and action - it's all good fun reading, great for elementary school age readers and for adults who haven't grown up too much to enjoy cartoons.